Sleep. It’s something we all need in order to preform our best, but it is often the first thing we neglect during the hustle and bustle of farming. Unfortunately, adequate shut eye can be hard to come by for dairy cattle, too. While sleep might not seem like an important factor in the grand scheme of herd health, research has shown that rest plays a significant role when it comes to milk production.
“Rest or lying time is essential for all animals, including humans, to function normally,” says Michael Miller, a research technician for the William H. Miner Agricultural Research Institute. “Just like during corn silage harvest where you may get only a few hours of sleep, you start to make more mistakes and don’t perform at your best. Dairy cows are the same: As lying time is restricted, they begin to have lower milk production and poor hoof health, among other problems.”
According to Rick Grant, President of the William H. Miner Agricultural Research Institute, dairy cattle need a minimum of 12.5 hours of lying time per day to meet their energy needs. Several factors can affect this, including stall competition, still size, time spent outside of the pen, bedding type along with bedding quality. If animals do not meet their rest requirements, their production may falter. Grant reports that every hour of rest lost equates to 2.2 lb. of milk loss.
When analyzing cow comfort, Miller recommends evaluating stall width. Stalls that are too narrow are more difficult for cows to maneuver in and can reduce their time spent laying down. In fact, research conducted at the University of British Columbia showed that cows spent approximately 1.2 more hours lying down in wider stalls (51.9 inches) compared to narrow stalls (44.1 inches).
Miller also suggests inspecting stall competition. Overstocking reduces the cow's ability to practice her natural behaviors, such as lying time. If too many animals are competing for stall space, lying time will likely decrease amongst the herd, especially for young, submissive animals.
“The mature dominant cows will be able to get their required rest, but the younger submissive cows will be more greatly affected,” Miller says. “Some companies offer services to measure lying time in your herd, and this is very valuable data to understand how comfortable your cows are. Of course, look at the average lying time of the pen, which is hopefully close to 12.5 hours, but also look at the range. This range can tell you how badly the less dominant animals are being affected by overstocking.”
While it may be difficult to increase your time spent resting, working to broaden the time your cows spend sleeping may help add a few more gallons of milk to the tank.